The Tragedy of Civilization : Arun Gandhi

Arun Dalai lamaArun Gandhi, His Holiness Dalai Lama and Martin Luther King III


It was only when Mohandas K. Gandhi was physically thrown off a train in South Africa because of the color of his skin that he realized how dehumanizing discrimination was. Until then he knew discrimination was bad but, like all of us, he could suppress his conscience because it had not happened to him. And when it happened the incident made him question civilization.

What made this humiliating experience a real mockery for him was the reaction of his Indian compatriots. If the white rulers do not want us in certain places we should simply not go there, they argued. In a civilized society is this right? Is this Just? This did not seem to matter. It still does not matter as long as we are left to pursue our materialistic goals. The word Justice is fraught with many dangers we don’t wish to face. One could lose all one’s possessions, relationships and even one’s life, in seeking justice. It is this attachment to material possessions that leads us to moral turpitude and prevents us from doing the right thing.

History is replete with instances where a few depraved people have succeeded in holding whole nations hostage to criminal activities. There are so many and so well known that I don’t need to repeat them. The world, Napoleon, Gandhi and King said at different times, is being destroyed not by the violence of the few, but by the silence of the many. Gandhi was right when he said materialism and morality have an inverse relationship, when one increases the other decreases!

Recent events in the United States, that is considered to be the richest, most powerful, most advanced nation of the world, in my opinion, have put its claim to be “civilized” in question. Is material possessions and power the only foundation of a civilized nation? What about moral and ethical values? Are there as many Gods as there is diversity in the world? Each creating a different group of people, different religions, different nationalities,different races? Or, is there just one God who created everything that exists today? If we believe in one God then how can we discriminate against or destroy with impunity God’s creation?

What is even more painful in this controversy is the silence of the intellectuals who are, understandably, regarded as the molders of public opinion and shapers of people’s destinies. And when they remain silent they become complicit in the dastardly acts of prejudice and violence that are destroying the fabric of our civilization.

Gandhi’s experience in South Africa gave rise to his philosophy of nonviolence because he realized that discrimination, oppression, exploitation and the manifold other weaknesses that plague societies today stem from the Culture of Violence that dominates every aspect of human life. For centuries we have been trying to eliminate selective aspects of the culture of violence and we fail miserably. Fire-fighting may give us temporary relief but not a long term change.

Years ago Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. rebuked intellectuals not to get bogged down in the “paralysis of analysis.” Yet, this is exactly where the intellectual world is right now. We are so bogged down in the dogmatic analysis of the philosophy that we have lost the essence.

Although Gandhi and King did use nonviolence to achieve their immediate goals – independence for India and civil rights for the African American people – what they tried to show us was the bigger picture. That nonviolence is about recognizing all the violence that we commit individually every day because we are brought up in the culture of violence. As a way of self analysis and transformation Gandhi made me write down every act of Physical violence and Passive Violence that I encountered during the day. Physical is the type of violence where physical force is used – wars, killings, murders, rape, etc. , while Passive is the kind of insidious violence that we practice without using physical force – hate, prejudice, discrimination, oppression, exploitation, wasting resources, over consuming etc.

As a society we are not taught to consider over consumption or waste as being violent. Yet, everything that we do that leads to disparities, economic, religious, or any other is violence because we are selfish and not willing to share our resources or our knowledge and wealth with others. It is passive violence that fuels the fire of physical violence so that if we wish to douse the fire we have to cut off the fuel supply. Since the fuel comes from each one of us – We Must Become The Change We Wish To See In The World.

If we do not understand and acknowledge the violence we practice we will never change and, therefore, society will never change and violence in all its different forms will flourish and destroy.


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